Black Swan (Cygnus atratus)
Image: the Black Swan, the bird emblem of Western Australia
Although the Black Swan is found in wetlands throughout Australia, this graceful bird has had a special association with Western Australia from the earliest times. Aboriginal lore tells how ancestors of the Nyungar people, the indigenous Australians living in the south west of the State, were once Black Swans who became men.
However, it was not until the voyages of Dutch explorers to the Great South Land in the 17th century that the existence of Black Swans was reported to the rest of the world. Until then people in Europe believed that all swans were white.
In 1697, Dutch explorer and navigator Captain Willem de Vlamingh explored and named the Swan River where the capital of Western Australia, Perth, now stands – on account of the flocks of Black Swans he sighted in the estuary. Some 130 years later, Captain James Stirling, investigating the area as a future British colony, also reported a flock of over 500 Black Swans flying over the river.
As a result, the original European settlement in Western Australia was named the Swan River Settlement (or Colony) and the Black Swan became a recognised symbol of the new Colony, appearing on government papers, bank notes, postage stamps and other publications such as the Swan River Guardian.
The Black Swan was also used on the original State Crest, which was used prior to the granting of the Warrant for the State Coat of Arms. This Crest sometimes incorporated the motto: "Cygnis insignis", which means "noted for swans". Subsequently the Black Swan was incorporated into the design of the State Badge, the State Seal, the State Coat of Arms and Commonwealth Coat of Arms.
It is not surprising therefore that the Black Swan was the obvious preference when consideration was being given to the selection of a State bird emblem. It was proclaimed as the bird emblem of Western Australia on 25 July 1973.
The bird is similar in size and shape to the European species, but its plumage is black, often tinged with brown, and with white wing tips. The scientific name for the species "atratus" means "dressed in black" . The beak is red with a white band near the tip.
A Black Swan stands about 106–140 centimetres with a wingspan of almost two metres. It ranges over wide expanses of water (both fresh and salt) and builds a bulky nest in swamps and lakes.
Males and females are similar in size and appearance but males can be identified in flight by their larger neck and, when swimming, they hold their neck more erect. The female lays between four and eight eggs which take about 40 days to hatch. Both parents care for the young fluffy beige-grey swans, called cygnets. Black feathers start to appear on the young after about 3–4 weeks. Cygnets begin to fly at about two months of age but stay with the parents until the next breeding season. Swans mate for life, sometimes living 40 years.
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